KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The world might never know why Diamond DeShields left the University of North Carolina, but we do know she is ready for a new start at Tennessee.
The 2014 national freshman of the year sat down with espnW recently to discuss her decision to transfer, her relationships with Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell and the Lady Vols' Pat Summitt and Holly Warlick, and explains why she initially committed to North Carolina.
More than anything, DeShields is eager to bring closure to her decision to transfer to Knoxville. Speculation ran rampant when DeShields left the Tar Heels after her freshman season. North Carolina reached the Elite Eight in 2014, despite Naismith Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell's absence on the sideline as she battled leukemia.
While DeShields has opted to keep what made her "unhappy" a "private matter" between her and coach Hatchell, there's no doubt she maintains a respect and love for her former coach.
"I would want to tell Coach Hatchell I love her and I'm proud of her for bouncing back the way she has leading that team," DeShields said. "I texted her earlier in the year, just checking on her. She and I have no bad blood."
DeShields isn't shy in talking about what did not factor into her decision to transfer, particularly the rumors that friend and former AAU teammate Te'a Cooper played into DeShields' decision to transfer. Cooper, a top 2015 prep prospect who initially committed to UNC, changed her mind and committed to Tennessee shortly before DeShields announced she was leaving Chapel Hill. DeShields said the two did not plan to play together before her announcement.
"I did want to play with her in college. If [the school] happened to be where [Cooper] wanted to go to school, then that would be great, but we've had these conversations plenty of times," DeShields said. "I understand that people wonder or speculate, you know, [we] wanted to go to school together and this was the plan and something's fishy about leaving North Carolina.
"But if that was the case, I wouldn't have considered going to Georgia. I wouldn't have considered going to South Carolina. ... I would have just came straight [to Tennessee]. So we didn't plan."
Diamond's father, Delino DeShields, has no doubt his daughter acted independently.
"Diamond is no follower," he said. "[Her] decision to come [to Tennessee] was her decision and hers alone."
When DeShields first announced she was transferring, exactly where she was taking her talents remained a mystery.
"A lot of people [told] me that she was coming to Tennessee ... she wanted to look around," Lady Vols coach Warlick said. "I think she wanted to find a place that she felt would make her feel happy. ... There was a comfort factor here, and I think that's probably part of coming here."
The fact that Diamond's mother, Tisha DeShields, was an All-American heptathlete at Tennessee, plus Diamond's relationship with Warlick, helped her feel right at home. And, Diamond says, she has always had nothing but respect for Summitt, who became Tennessee's head coach emeritus in 2012, after Alzheimer's disease was diagnosed in 2011. DeShields fondly recalls many conversations during her high school recruiting when "Pat and I would just kind of sit on the phone and talk ... about her dogs or Tyler [Pat's son, now the Louisiana Tech women's head coach] or basketball."
"[Summitt] was just a really genuine person, and the way she spoke and the way she carried herself, she was very humble, and she really was, like, the main reason I wanted to even play basketball because I've always wanted to play for her."
So why didn't DeShields pick Tennessee out of high school?
"I don't want to put the blame on her situation because that's just, I think that's cruel," DeShields said. "But I wanted to play for her, and so when the news [of Summitt's diagnosis] broke out, it was around my senior year, and that's, like, decision-making time.
"It was a tough pill to swallow because I was like, 'Who's going to step in?' They were still trying to decide what the staff was going to be. There were all these unknowns, and so that had a lot to do with me not coming here initially just because I didn't know anything anymore."
But DeShields fell right in step with Summitt and the rest of Tennessee's staff once she decided where she was transferring.
"When I signed here, I can't remember the month exactly, but it was during when everyone was doing the ice bucket challenges and she and I and Holly, we all did it together in front of the plaza," DeShields said. "And afterwards, she gave me a hug and was like, 'You should have came here the first time,' and you know, it was just kind of funny. ... It made me feel special that she was able to say that to me, and I think that's something that I'll take with me forever."
DeShields, who is nursing injuries dating back to high school, is sitting out this entire season per NCAA transfer rules.
"I was willing to sit out so as long as I could be happy where I was at, and I'm very happy, but it's hard," DeShields said. "I'm a natural competitor and I want to be out there."